TV Violence Plan Includes Controversial Ratings System
Jan. 22, 1994
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Cable television executives have a plan to control TV violence aimed at appeasing Congress, but it includes a rating system the big four broadcast networks adamantly oppose.
Lawmakers aren't likely to drop their plans to legislate against violence on television unless industry-wide changes are made, but one Senate leader on the subject says ratings may not be necessary.
The cable TV plan, first revealed in Friday editions of The Washington Post, calls for an independent monitoring committee that would keep track of violent programming and rating codes that would allow violent programs to be blocked by viewers with specially equipped TV sets.
The Washington Post reported Saturday that the four broadcast networks reached an agreement in principle on Friday to use an independent monitor to review programming for violent content.
An NBC spokeswoman refused late Friday to confirm or deny the Post's account.
''We've been in intense conversations all week, including today. When we're ready to announce something, we will,'' said the spokeswoman, who asked that she not be identified.
The Post reported that the agreement was finalized in a conference call Friday by executives of NBC, CBS, ABC and Fox, but still needs to be approved by the heads of the networks.
The monitoring idea is advocated by Sen. Paul Simon, D-Ill., a leader on the TV violence issue in the Senate.
A bill that would require a ''v-chip'' to be installed in all new sets to block violence has been introduced by Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., chairman of the Energy and Commerce telecommunications subcommittee.
A total of 10 bills are pending that restrict violence on TV in various ways. The most restrictive would ban it during hours of the day when most children would be watching.
Congress has been inspired to act because of public perception that TV violence causes the real thing and academic studies that show a link between human behavior and television viewing habits.
''The really key thing is some kind of a monitoring self-assessment so we can get an annual report card for the American people,'' Simon said in an interview with The Associated Press.
He has been meeting with both cable and broadcast executives and has told them he would try to dissuade the rest of Congress from legislation if a monitoring committee is created voluntarily.
''On the rating system, I have mixed feelings,'' said Simon. ''I'm not pushing them (the TV industry) on that.''
ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox say ratings are the first step toward censorship and once applied to violence might later be extended to sexual content or politically controversial programming.
''I can't see any way we would agree to a ratings proposal and v-chip,'' said Marty Franks of CBS. ''We see that as beginning down the slippery slope of censorship.''
But he said: ''We are still in conversation with Sen. Simon over monitoring or assessment and hope we can come to some agreement.''
Broadcasters have said at congressional hearings that ratings would deter advertisers, which are the sole support of over-the-air programs.
Cable television networks aren't as worried about those effects because they get subscription fees. Some, like HBO and Showtime, carry no advertising and already rate their shows.
Other parts of the cable industry proposals already are being followed by the broadcasters. They include:
-A parental advisory system.
-Scheduling violent programs, and promotions for violent programs, during hours when children would be least likely to watch.
-An anti-violence educational campaign.
-A week of programming on cable networks to anti-violent themes.
-Individual programs to address violence.
''We have been working collectively for several years on this issue,'' said Tony Cox, chairman and CEO of Showtime cable network and chairman of a committee of major cable programmers.
He said work is not complete, more talks will be held, but the plan should be fully developed by year's end.
''We welcome the fact that the are going to do a number of things finally to come up to our standards,'' said CBS' Franks.
Broadcast executives say this fall's program lineup as the least violent in 25 years and have blamed the cable networks for showing the bulk of the violent programming now on TV.